Heart care specialists in Boynton Beach use many tests to diagnose potential cardiac problems. They may, for example, use an electrocardiogram (ECG) or Holter monitor to record the heart’s electrical discharges, looking for evidence of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms. They can also use ultrasound in the form of echocardiography to visualize the functioning of the heart’s valves and chambers to detect further abnormalities.
But some heart disorders do not always appear when the patient is resting in a chair or reclining on an examination table, and manifest only when the heart is more active, and “under load.” So another tool in the cardiologist’s arsenal of diagnostic methodologies is the stress test, which enables them to determine the amount of stress or exertion that your heart can manage before developing either an abnormal rhythm or evidence of ischemia (insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle).
What exactly is a stress test?
First, a cardiac stress test only takes about 10 minutes, and is not particularly stressful. For most people, not eating the morning of the test is the most stressful part. The most common type of stress test used by the Boynton Beach and Delray Beach cardiologists at South Palm Cardiovascular Associates is an exercise stress test, in which the patient is asked to walk on a mechanized treadmill. The pace of the treadmill advances through a standardized protocol of speed and incline changes, which vary every three minutes to place increasing loads on the heart.
During the test, the patient’s blood pressure and ECG readings are continuously monitored, and the doctor periodically questions the patient about possible symptoms like chest pain. If chest pain develops, this can be an indication of a blocked artery that is causing ischemia. The reduced blood flow from the ischemia will also be reflected in the changing electrocardiogram readings and in blood pressure measurements. This information can help the doctors pinpoint problems with heart rhythms that only appear under stress conditions.
What is a nuclear stress test?
Although an exercise stress test is a valuable tool, its sensitivity is sometimes limited by either false positive or false negative results, making it difficult to form an accurate diagnosis. In such cases the doctors can improve sensitivity by integrating additional imaging technology with the standard ECG measurements during an exercise stress test. This is also useful in cases where patients have medical conditions that preclude exercise, so in such cases a drug called Lexiscan is introduced intravenously. This drug simulates stress on the heart.
Whether the mode of stress is walking a treadmill or the drug, before a nuclear stress test begins a radioactive isotope is injected, and the doctors are then able to watch its distribution through special cameras as the stress protocol advances. These images are then compared to a set of images acquired at rest to provide a precise view of blood flow through the coronary arteries.
Do you need to have a cardiac stress test?
The best way to answer this question is to call our offices at 561-515-0080 and schedule an appointment for an initial consultation and examination. During this examination, the best heart doctors in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach will use more standard tests to evaluate your heart health, and will recommend a stress test only if they feel it is necessary. For more information about any of these procedures, please visit our website at: http://www.southpalmcardiovascular.com.